On Wednesday 21 March, Bishop Peter Hancock, in his role as lead Safeguarding Bishop for the Church of England was called to give evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse.
The full transcript from the day’s hearing is available on the IICSA website. A summary of Bishop Peter’s responses are given below.
Bishop Peter was asked about the role of the lead Safeguarding Bishop (as defined in Roles and Responsibilities 2017). Bishop Peter said he welcome the clarity it provided and said that the role took up more than half of his working life. He said that following a recommendation in the Gibb Review he now has dedicated professional help in the diocese for his national work. He added that currently he thought it was important to have a serving bishop in the role to bring about changes that are needed but he was mindful of the views of survivors who feel that the bishop might not have the time to give them the support and the care and the listening that they need. He saw his role as offering steerage, support and space to reflect on the importance and impact of safeguarding – he was clear that he is not a casework manager but said that he always made it a priority to listen to survivors and to ensure they knew he would take action.
Bishop Peter said that safeguarding training should not be seen as a burden or just a requirement but as a blessing; something that benefits everyone as it is everybody’s responsibility. He was asked by Counsel about two Faith and Order Commission documents on the theology of safeguarding which he said were important for work in parishes to think about issues like forgiveness and reconciliation and other safeguarding related topics in light of the Bible. He added that cultural change must focus on safeguarding work in parishes (as outlined in the Gibb review) where the frontline of youth and children’s work is carried out. He also spoke about the importance of clear messages and support for those working at the coal face and mentioned the idea of Safeguarding Sunday celebrated in some dioceses, which brings those working in safeguarding together for a special service.
He spoke about the importance of disciplinary consequences for breaching the ‘due regard’ duty in safeguarding. He added he thought it would be helpful if a risk management tool with capability procedures sat alongside the CDM.
He also spoke about the importance of Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Panels and said when criticised through the SCIE audits the independent chairs have taken it very seriously and they do have ‘some teeth’ in terms of a reporting function. While admitting it was vital dioceses were adequately resourced for safeguarding he conceded there was not good enough national data at the moment but that it was needed to implement a standards-based approach.
He agreed with Archbishop Justin’s comments on a possible redress scheme and the importance of justice and speed and the experience of the Australian Anglican Church was being looked at in light of the recent Australian Royal Commission.
Counsel asked about cathedrals and safeguarding and Bishop Peter said that all would have arrangements in place but stressed that the forthcoming independent audits would be welcomed by deans and chapter, they were not being ‘done’ to them.
Asked about the governance of safeguarding he said he believed there should be embedded resources locally, as parishes are at the forefront, with a mix of national and external work.
Bishop Peter was asked his view on the Seal of the Confessional and said he thought it should not apply to disclosures of abuse: “The safeguarding and the welfare of children and young people is paramount.” He went on to say that this is his personal view and that there are discussions about it at the House of Bishops this year and there is an ongoing review. He explained that he thinks the permissive canon the Anglican Church in Australia has come up with is an elegant solution.
When asked about mandatory reporting, Bishop Peter said: “It is the responsibility not just of every church member but of every citizen, every person in this country if they have knowledge or significant suspicion of abuse, it should be reported to statutory authorities.”
Counsel closed by asking Bishop Peter what he had learnt from the Inquiry. He told the panel: “I have learnt that it is not enough to say that the church is here to listen and to learn. We are here to act and to make our decisions and our priorities and our policies visible and credible. The church has a long way to go to restore public confidence and trust in this area and it’s essential that we do that and I think they will look for the church to be honest, to be transparent and to be determined and rigorous in pursuing making the church a safer place.”